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The Democratic Debate in Des Moines: progressive candidates on means testing versus universality

The Democratic Debate in Des Moines: progressive candidates on means testing versus universality

Dana Chasin at 2020 Vision does a good job of encapsulating key issuesthat surface in the Democratic debates.

Let’s get this out first:  most listeners will admit that the debates seem both too long and too short, as mentioned on Stephen Henderson’s Detroit Today program this Wednesday 1/15 morning.  They are too short, because candidates are interrupted at the 30-second time limit and not allowed to develop nuanced, considered answers to questions.  They are too long, because they go on for 2 hours.  I’d add that they are problematic, because the media pundits have their own views of what creates energetic dialogue that makes good ‘copy’ for programming, versus the kinds of in-depth discussions about issues like climate change, health care, education, the Supreme Court, congressional oversight/checks and balances, tax policy, wealth inequality and income inequality, plutocracy and oligarchy, etc. that people want to hear.

One important distinction that Chasin notes for thinking about socio-economic programs is the distinction between means testing and universality.  A means-tested program is generally available to lower-income people and often phases out and is capped at some income level beyond which it is no available.  A universally offered program is one that is available to all, rich and poor alike.  So the Earned Income Tax Credit is a means-tested program that is capped (too low, in my view), and Social Security is a universally available program (though there is a graduated payout scale and the funding formula caps pay-ins to the program at a ridiculously low level that means the rich pay only a pittance into the program)

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Majority Say Senate Should Remove Trump

EMichael: I don’t understand why people have such a hard time believing that there is no such thing as an “independent” voter. Sure, a lot of people register as an independent, but that certainly does not mean they vote for one party or the other depending on the candidates and/or circumstances.

Plenty of studies have shown that independent voters are even more loyal to one party or the other than party registered voters. In other words, when they vote, they vote for just one party.
And polls show the exact same thing whenever they appear. Like this:

“The new poll also finds majorities of Americans view each of the charges on which Trump will face trial as true: 58% say Trump abused the power of the presidency to obtain an improper personal political benefit and 57% say it is true that he obstructed the House of Representatives in its impeachment inquiry.

Massive partisan gaps continue to dominate views on Trump and his impeachment trial. Overall, 89% of Democrats say he should be removed from office, while just 8% of Republicans feel the same way. Among independents, it’s nearly dead even: 48% say the Senate should vote to remove him, while 46% say that they should not. Views on whether Trump should be impeached and removed are also evenly split across battleground states, 49% are on each side across the 15 states decided by 8 points or less in 2016. Those states are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.”

CNN poll: 51% say Senate should remove Trump from office

What this means is that half of independent voters are Dems and half are Reps. It shows the folly in attempting to attain independent votes desires, which always leads to a centrist stance. Dems need to cater to their progressive goals, and the half of the independents who are really Dem voters will follow along. And half of the independents who are Rep voters will shy away. It’s not like they are going to vote Dem in their lifetime.

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Two Chears for Nicholas Fandos

The standard rule that reporters cover both sides of a debate and find some source to contest lies rather than doing it in their own name (and the name of the newspaper) has not survived Mitch McConnell’s office.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Fandos notes that “A senior Republican aide in the Senate” lied on a very simple fact which is in the public record.

The aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail internal strategy, argued that in doing so, the House had denied Mr. Trump proper due process rights afforded to Mr. Clinton, suggesting the current president was not given a chance to contest the House’s record.

The House invited Mr. Trump to mount a defense before the Judiciary Committee during its impeachment proceeding, including requesting witnesses and documents, but the president’s legal team declined, saying it would not dignify an inquiry it deemed illegitimate with a response.

So it is very good that the lie was clearly described as a lie. I accept the Grey Lady’s style which does not allow the use of the appropriate plain English words “lie” or “lied”. I think it would be better to have written that a source resorted to flat out lies when attempting to justify McConnell’s decision to break his work, without quoting the lie and just noting that the source lied. But I don’t expect to convince anyone.

However, I do not think that anonymity should be granted without the qualifier that the reporter will name the source if the reporter is convinced that the source lied.

I do not think anything is gained by allowing people to infect the discussion with flat out lies. Reporters will not recklessly burn sources in ambiguous cases, as that will be punished. Reporters will be punished for adding the qualifier. Therefore, I think it must be made a matter of policy that reporters are not allowed to hide the names of liars.

I note also that the justification for the grant of anonymity is based on another lie. The aid aims to convince the public with an argument. The claim that the deliberation was meant to be private is simply another lie. This shows the worthlessness of the rule that reporters must explain why they grant anonymity. The practice is to report a lie used to request anonymity as an un-contestable truth.

Also, I am not a lawyer, but I think that the senior aid slandered the House of Representatives and its Judiciary Committee. The claim is false. It is a matter of very public record that it is false. Needless to say the House of Representatives is as public a figure as there can be, and Senate aids are as close to having “speech or debate” immunity as is anyone who doesn’t actually have that immunity. Given those considerations, I think the aid is liable for slander. The statement was a damaging flat out lie. He or she must have known that it was a lie. The highest possible standard is very low compared to the level of the tort.

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CRS: Social Security: What Would Happen If the Trust Funds Ran Out?

(Dan here…reposted due to discussion in a previous thread)

CRS: Social Security: What Would Happen If the Trust Funds Ran Out?

Very interesting paper that I missed in real time.

Social Security: What Would Happen If the Trust Funds Ran Out?

Almost everyone who addresses this question assumes that the answer is pretty simple: if either of the Social Security Trust Funds goes to zero than benefits will automatically drop from ‘Scheduled’ to ‘Payable’ which translates to a 22-25% overnight cut depending on which Trust Fund we are talking about. But I had an interesting conversation with Andrew Biggs some years back. Andrew is a very prominent advocate of Social Security ‘reform’ which he sells on the basis that the system is ‘unsustainable’. As such he and I and Coberly and he have had some vigorous debates over the years, and mostly he is firmly in the ‘bad guy’ category on policy. For all that he is a nice guy and really, really knows the numbers and laws in play. Not least because he spent some time as the Principal Deputy Commissioner of Social Security (the no. 2) during the Bush Administration.

With that as background Biggs told me that the situation at Trust Fund Depletion was not as clear-cut as almost everyone assumed and had been the topic of some high end discussion at SSA. And their conclusion as related by Biggs to me mirrored that of the Congressional Research Service in this Report from last year.

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Rep Jayapal and Sen Sanders’ Have Introduced Medicare for All Bills: Part 1

I have exchanged emails with Kip Sullivan several times and believe he has the clearest explanation on Single Payer. I have found him to be a good source for the two Single Payer bills in Congress today. Unfortunately, it is a long explanation and it can not be summed up on one page or in the amount of time you would spend watching the news at 10 PM. To compensate for the length of the presentation, I have broken it down into two parts. I hope you take some time and read it.

Rep Jayapal and Sen Sanders Have Introduced Medicare For All Bills: One Is a Lot Better Than the Other,” Healthcare for All Minnesota, Kip Sullivan, May 8, 2019

Two bills that are called “Medicare for all” bills by their supporters have just been introduced in Congress. On February 27, Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced the Medicare For All Act of 2019, HR 1384, in the House of Representatives. On April 10, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill bearing the same name in the Senate, S 1129. The cost-containment section in Representative Jayapal’s bill will cut health care costs substantially without slashing the incomes of doctors and hospitals. Senator Sanders’ bill cannot do that.

In this article, I explain the differences in the cost containment sections of the two bills and call upon Senator Sanders to correct two defects in his bill that minimize its ability to reduce costs. Defect number one: S 1129 authorizes a new form of insurance company called the “accountable care organization” (ACO). Defect number two: S 1129 fails to authorize budgets for hospitals. Representative Jayapal’s bill, on the other hand, explicitly repeals the federal law authorizing ACOs, and it authorizes budgets for individual hospitals.

I write this essay as both a long-time organizer, writer and speaker for a single-payer (the older name for “Medicare for all” system) and a strong supporter of Senator Sanders. Bernie’s enthusiastic support for a “single payer” solution to the American health care crisis has added millions of new supporters to the single-payer movement. But precisely because he is now the most recognizable face of the single-payer movement, it is extremely important that all of us, whether we’re already in the single-payer movement or we just long for a sane and humane health care system, encourage Bernie to fix the defects in his bill.

To explain the two defects in S 1129, I must first explain why a single-payer bill like Representative Jayapal’s will be effective at cutting the high cost of American health care. I begin by explaining the origin and meaning of the “single payer” label. I will then describe the two defects in S 1129 in more detail.

Past the leap, the origin of Single Payer

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News and Words that Caught My Eye this Week

Teacher of the Year‘ kneels during college football championship attended by Trump,”ABC News, January 16, 2020

During a ceremony honoring the 2019 “Teachers of the Year,” one in particular stood out.

The honoree from Minnesota, Kelly Holstine, chose to kneel during the national anthem at the NCAA football championship game on Monday, where the ceremony took place, “to stand up for marginalized and oppressed people,” according to a tweet she wrote, which included a photograph of her kneeling.

“Like many before, I respectfully kneeled during Nat’l Anthem because, ‘No one is free until we are all free,'” she wrote, referencing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and citing a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Virginia school board refuses to ban Confederate flag” from the dress code, Today, Alyssa Newcomb, January 16, 2020

A Virginia school board is refusing a dress code ban on clothing showing the Confederate flag, despite the appeals of the board’s only black member.

The Franklin County School Board in Rocky Mount, Virginia, voted 7-1 on Monday against formally writing a ban on the Confederate flag into the dress code. The board cited Tinker vs. Des Moines, a 1969 case that ruled students were allowed to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War and did not lose their right to free expression, even while attending school.

“In Franklin County, we do not have any documented cases of a substantial disruption caused by the Confederate flag

The Miseducation of the American Boy,” The Atlantic, Peggy Orenstein, January 15, 2020

I knew nothing about Cole before meeting him; he was just a name on a list of boys at a private school outside Boston who had volunteered to talk with me (or perhaps had had their arm twisted a bit by a counselor). The afternoon of our first interview, I was running late. As I rushed down a hallway at the school, I noticed a boy sitting outside the library, waiting—it had to be him. He was staring impassively ahead, both feet planted on the floor, hands resting loosely on his thighs.

My first reaction was Oh no.

It was totally unfair, a scarlet letter of personal bias. Cole would later describe himself to me as a “typical tall white athlete” guy, and that is exactly what I saw. At 18, he stood more than 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and short-clipped hair.

Additional after the Leap

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Dan Shaviro (NYU) and Tim Smeeding (WISC) on NPR’s Detroit Today Show

Dan Shaviro (NYU) and Tim Smeeding (WISC) on NPR’s Detroit Today Show

For those of you who may not have the opportunity to tune into Stephen Henderson’s radio program Detroit Today on NPR, it might be useful to have a short summary of the January 9 discussion of the “wealth gap” from that program.


Tax lawyers have traditionally talked of the “tax gap”1  and frequently mentioned the growing “income gap” between the top 1% of the income distribution and the remaining 99%, but the “wealth gap”2 discussion among tax lawyers, tax policy thinkers, economic analysts and indeed progressive legislators about the relative net assets of different segments of the population has become increasingly important as people have recognized the trend of increasing wealth for the top 0.1% in the US and stagnating wealth for most of the US population.  The wealth gap is even more significant when race/ethnicity is taken into account: the 400 wealthiest families in 2015 owned as much as the country’s entire African-American population plus 1/3 of the Latino population.4  The median white household in 2011 had about $111 thousand in wealth, while the median black household had $7 thousand and the median Latino household had $8 thousand, with the impact of slavery and post-WWII homeownership policies being the underlying source of most of the disparities.3 See also How Ameria’s Vast Racial Wealth Gap Grew: By Plunder, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2019.  The generational wealth gap is also worrisome: older Americans’ wealth grew between 1989 and 2013 but all other age groups had their wealth decline. The gender wealth gap underlies the power distinction that lies at the bottom of the MeToo movement: women earn less than men for the same work at the same level, and they save less and are more likely to live in poverty in old age.

That means that children in this country born to families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution have enormous advantages from birth:  they are essentially guaranteed the best medical, educational, and institutional support imaginable, with every opportunity for learning and advancement laid before them.  Their parents can afford to ensure they are able to get into top colleges (e.g., Harvard alumni preferences for their children), meet the “right” people for success in their preferred field (the “connections” that wealthy families build), take a preferred non-paying internship in another city with family funds supporting living expenses and more, all the way up the ladders of success.  Children born into families in the bottom half of the wealth distribution face a struggle at every point along that ladder:  schools that are inadequately funded after decades of Republican concentration on assessment and hurdles rather than support and educational opportunities; lack of exposure to different possibilities and the people who can open doors into those possibilities; lack of funding to make it possible to accept an opportunity when it presents itself.

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Further Followup On The Soleimani Assassination

Further Followup On The Soleimani Assassination

I wish to point out some matters not getting a lot of attention in the US media.

An important one of those was reported two days ago by Juan Cole. It is that apparently it has not been determined for certain that the initial attack that set off this current round of deaths when a militia in Iraq attacked an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk in which an American contractor was killed, almost certainly a matter of collateral damage although not recognized as such, was actually done by Kata’b Hezbollah, the group reported to have done it.  That group was commanded by al-Mushani, who was also assassinated with Soleimani, with whom he was allied.  But it is not certain that they did it.  As it is, the Kirkuk base is dominated by Kurdish Pesh Merga, with whom it is not at all obvious the pro-Iranian militias like the Kat’b Hezbollah have hostile differences.  This may have been cooked up to create an excuse for assassinating Soleimani.

Indeed, it has now been reported that seven months ago Trump had approved killing Soleimani essentially at the first instance there would be a good excuse for doing so.  In fact it is now reported that although Trump had not heard of Soleimani during th 2016 election, within five minutes of his inauguration he suggested killing Soleimani.  SecState Pompeo been encouraging and pushing this action, but it has been something Trump has been hot to do for some time.  Going up for an impeachment trial looks like a really good time.

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The 2020 Electoral College playing field expands for Democrats

The 2020 Electoral College playing field expands for Democrats

Polling firm Morning Consult has an interactive graph measuring Trump approval by State for each month since January 2016. You can visit it here.

The map has some interesting insights for the 2020 Presidential election race. In the first place, while it would be too cumbersome to show here, in general Trump’s disapproval has spread and intensified over the course of his term. As the latest map, for December, does not include reaction to his reckless warmongering with Iran, I am going to guess that January’s map will be worse for him.

Anyway, while there is obviously some variation from month to month, the latest two months shown below in chronological order, November and December, show – in shades from light pink to red – all of those States that the Democratic candidate has the most decent chance of carrying:

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